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January 15 , 2008

The Promise of Wilderness

American Environmental Politics since 1964


From Denali's majestic slopes to the Great Swamp of central New Jersey, protected wilderness areas make up nearly twenty percent of the parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other public lands that cover a full fourth of the nation's territory. But wilderness is not only a place. It is also one of the most powerful and troublesome ideas in American environmental thought, representing everything from sublime beauty and patriotic inspiration to a countercultural ideal and an overextension of government authority.

The Promise of Wilderness examines how the idea of wilderness has shaped the management of public lands since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Wilderness preservation has engaged diverse groups of citizens, from hunters and ranchers to wildlife enthusiasts and hikers, as political advocates who have leveraged the resources of local and national groups toward a common goal. Turner demonstrates how these efforts have contributed to major shifts in modern American environmental politics, which have emerged not just in reaction to a new generation of environmental concerns, such as environmental justice and climate change, but also in response to changed debates over old conservation issues, such as public lands management. He also shows how battles over wilderness protection have influenced American politics more broadly, fueling disputes over the proper role of government, individual rights, and the interests of rural communities; giving rise to radical environmentalism; and playing an important role in the resurgence of the conservative movement, especially in the American West.

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